Wednesday, March 01, 2017


After Early College

After Early College, then what?

Early College High School programs are growing quickly.  They involve partnerships between colleges -- usually community colleges -- and high schools by which high school students take college classes for that count for both high school and college credit.  Depending on the design, students can graduate with an associate’s degree when they graduate with the high school diploma.

The newly minted grad -- probably 17 or 18 years old -- can start at many four-year colleges with “junior” academic status.  It’s a great way to reduce tuition and debt burdens.  Brookdale has several ECHS programs running in Monmouth County already, with several more slated to start this Fall.  

For low-income students, it’s a great way to bring a four-year degree within reach.  For high achieving high school students, it’s a great way to save money.  Transcripted college credits transfer much more reliably than, say, AP scores.  

But getting through the bachelor’s in two more years means hitting the world at age 19 or 20, and many students aren’t quite ready yet.  What to do?

The agreement among St. John Vianney High School, Brookdale Community College, and Georgian Court University strikes me as a prototype for what we will probably see much more of in the near future.  It’s a 2 plus 2 plus 2 model.  The student gets the associate’s degree from Brookdale while in high school.  She then spends four years at Georgian Court: the first two finishing the bachelor’s, and the next two getting the master’s.  She graduates with her master’s degree at the same age at which most of her friends are graduating with the bachelor’s.  

For certain students, I can see a real appeal to a program like this.  It allows for a four-year campus experience, which holds appeal both intrinsically and as a way to mature a bit before hitting the outside world.  She doesn’t have to start “adulting” any earlier than she otherwise would have, but she’ll start with a higher degree.  In many fields, that will set her up to start earning much more right out of the gate.

Even if she elects to go elsewhere for the master’s, she’ll likely be starting with only two years’ worth of loans.  To the extent that colleges make the pathways clear and easy, we can make non-profit higher ed the path of least resistance.  As Tressie McMillan Cottom notes in her new book, graduate education is where the for-profits have migrated.  This is a chance to short-circuit their efforts to recruit, while actually improving both access and loan balances for students.

From a parental perspective, I can absolutely see the appeal.  If you have several children to put through college, knocking off the cost of two years per kid makes a difference.  

Obviously, it’s a niche program.  It makes sense for, say, teacher education in a way that it might not make sense for sociology.  And it presumes that the prospective student is still in K-12; it doesn’t do anything for working adults.  

But as a way to help students position themselves to make adult salaries before starting families, I can absolutely see it.  

Wise and worldly readers who work at places that have arrangements like these: is there anything we should be sure to look out for?  Anything that falls under “if we knew then what we know now?”

I'm not the person you asked to respond, but as someone who went straight through undergrad and began teaching high school, I benefited greatly (hugely) by having several years of experience under my belt before I went back for my masters. I have been concerned about the programs that wrap California's fifth year into an immediate masters, and the system you describe concerns me even more with education. The theory and the practice are do far apart, I wish young teachers were somehow required to reach at least two years (reach tenure), but preferably 3-5, before being allowed to begin their master's programs.
I have a friend who went straight into a graduate program after graduating from college at age 19. A few years later, she realized that the grad program wasn't the right fit for her, and really regretted not slowing down to explore her career options. So I think it would be important to make sure that students have plenty of opportunities to explore and change their minds before they commit to a master's program.
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I'm not convinced a 2+2 model with a aster's program will reduce costs. Wouldn't 2 years of finishing the BA then 2 years of MA *both* incur loans (maybe not at the place you've listed, but at other institutions surely)?
As an advisor for engineering and CS, I found that the tech industry preferred 8-12 month co-ops. The students generally took 2 months to be useful, so it made the financial outlay more effective. Transfer students often got there 'too late' to take full advantage. With this group of students, the added advantage of exploring time before the masters seems to be a needed piece, unless they are uncommonly insightful into their own career path. So I would add a strand that integrates longer coops than a regular undergrad.

The other piece that might work is the explicit intention to reverse transfer into a career focused post-bac diploma.

Associates degree while in high school, finish liberal bachelors, return for the diploma that gives some specific training to an industry. We know this is happening already, but students often understand it as a 'failed' Bachelors. This would make it a deliberate career prep strategy - you need both of the skill sets to launch.
My child is finishing with her transfer degree at the same time she is graduating from high school. Because she is interested in a STEM major, she will probably still need 4 years because of the pre-requisite requirements for sequence classes.

The science credits earned for her Early College credits are not at the majors level, so she will actually need to take chemistry and physics at her four-year school. (She thankfully will not need to retake subjects because her Early College science credits are in biology and geology).

What the 2-year degree has bought her is a slightly lighter load for four-years and the ability to pursue other classes (maybe a second major, and maybe some graduate classes in year 4) but I do not know how much overall savings will be realized.

There is a second very real effect of taking lots of Early College Credits that I have seen among my advisees (and one that my child will run into) if you take to many credits that do not count towards a major (like her biology credits), they still count towards the 150% limit of financial aid. I even had one student who had to file an appeal with financial aid finish their 2-year degree because she had too many Early College elective credits
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I graduated high school at 16 with my AA from dual enrollment and finished my BS in 2.5 years with a double major. Due to when my birthday falls, I actually ended up graduating college when I was barely over 18. I joined the Peace Corps and ended up teaching high school in a country where high schoolers were typically 18-22 (they start late and many have to take a few years off along the way to help with farming). There were issues around that with my fellow teachers and with my students. I then did a 2 year MS program in 1 year because I'd already taken all the advanced coursework as an undergrad and just had to do my research. I ended up with my AA, BS, Peace Corps experience, and 90% of my MS degree before I was old enough to drink. I'm not a genius, just ended up with better-than-average timing. The main advantage was getting me out of my crappy high school and into a strong academic culture early. That made it worth it for me, and I'd do it again to get out of there. However, I often wish I'd had a more "classic" academic experience. I was on my undergrad campus too short of a time to get involved in much extracurricular stuff, in PC I was was so much younger (developmentally as well as chronologically) than the other volunteers that it was hard to bond with them, and grad school without being able to join in happy hour was lonelier than it needed to be. That was all over 20 years ago. I'm glad I'm finally old enough that my colleagues now spread around my age in either direction. That makes for a more pleasant adult life for sure. I feel like I caught up eventually, but that I was delayed relative to my peers, not speeding ahead of them.
I'm in here late rather than early because I wanted to see what others said (for a change) and think about both my own experience with CC classes while in college and the "things to watch out for" based on my experience teaching high school students in my physics classes (all taught on campus).

My own experience was too limited to match what is in the Anonymous comment immediately before this one. Instead, just jumping over some boring HS classes and getting a head start on some college ones made my senior year more tolerable. I ended up with the best of both worlds: exposure to persons MUCH older than myself (I took a night class) plus learning in some college-level HS classes with my peers. Not AP, just some top notch (possibly prep-school level) classes that were more challenging than the freshmen classes I took the next year.

The big gain for me is that I had about a semester to burn on electives, and could take almost anything I wanted if my Honors advisor agreed. Those classes never added up to a Minor, let alone a double major, but they did turn into a career. I actually double-majored in a major that didn't exist then, and rarely exists today. Don't discount having a free semester or two.

What you need to watch out for are advising, advising, and advising. The biggest risk is what I see all the time with AP classes. Taking the wrong classes. I took the right one: calculus. Nothing like being ahead in math in a STEM field. It is actually a net negative to be ahead in other liberal arts gen ed classes, or even in some science classes if they need calculus for the next one. You need a clear "pathway" for them based on career intersts, and good monitoring along the way, matching that path to a specific, realistic, transfer institution or two so the student knows what to expect after transfer. (For example, my calculus-based class is just a warmup for the class required at a private university some of my students go to, while it is identical to what is expected at another one they sometimes go to.) They need to see how it all fits together, with no surprises.

And I mean advising at the college, not the high school. Here the classes are set up by the high school, and the HS didn't seem to react properly even when a student failed a class. In one case, I saw no evidence of any counseling by anyone except me, and that didn't help the first time or the second. I know they work with out staff to choose the right classes, but our staff don't have much experience advising genius-level students.

The economic gain is real in my field. People pay you to go to grad school in STEM fields, so any time saved in undergrad is all gravy. But that will be lost if the student doesn't make up for some limited experiences with good internships, rather than just slamming through the coursework.

You also need to have faculty with some awareness that they might have a 16 year old young woman in a class with a 25 year old army vet or a 45 year old returning student. Maybe even as lab partners. To my knowledge, our college does not screen students or faculty at any where the same level that a high school will screen visitors or volunteers. You don't want a scandal.
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